The Pasty Little Putz says “The Magic is Gone,” and that the Charlotte convention made it clear that the president is out of ideas. Of course, there’s no mention of any ideas from Rmoney and ZEGS… In “Playing Now: Hail to Us Chiefs” MoDo has a question: Will there be a second chance for We, the President? Typical MoDo hissing like the harpy she is. The Moustache of Wisdom, in “New Rules,” says the plan to “work hard and play by the rules” to get ahead in life is now outdated. It takes much more than that. Well, yeah, Tommy — it helps if your daddy leaves you millions. Mr. Kristof tells us about “Where the Cows Are Happy and Food Is Healthy.” He says don’t laugh, but maybe milk is tastier and healthier if it comes from a cow with a name. And that hasn’t been loaded with antibiotics… Mr. Bruni is “Haunted by Hillary,” and says at both conventions, there were ghosts of politics past, present and future. Here’s The Putz:
The Obama era in American politics began almost exactly eight years ago in Boston, when a youthful Senate candidate’s soaring speech to the Democratic National Convention stole the show from the actual Democratic nominee.
It ended, to all intents and purposes, last Thursday night in Charlotte, when a weary-seeming incumbent delivered perhaps the fourth-best major address at his own convention — a plodding, hectoring speech that tacitly acknowledged that this White House is out of ideas, out of options and no longer the master of its fate.
The end of an era does not necessarily mean the end of a presidency. Barack Obama is still beloved by his supporters and regarded sympathetically by many swing voters. His Republican rival is a flawed candidate running an overcautious campaign. The memories of the Bush presidency’s failures are still fresh enough to make even a stumbling Democratic administration seem as if it might be the lesser of two evils.
But a re-elected Obama will be a permanently diminished Obama, with no magic left in his public persona and no mandate save to stay the current economic course. He may win the necessary electoral votes in November, but come February he will already essentially be a lame duck.
This reality has been apparent for some time, but the proceedings in Charlotte were highly clarifying. On Tuesday, Michelle Obama offered a moving apologia for her husband’s character and leadership. On Wednesday, Bill Clinton smoothly defended Obama’s domestic policy, and then sliced and diced the Republican alternative. On Thursday, Joe Biden issued a stinging populist attack on Mitt Romney, and a robust defense of his boss’s decision-making chops.
All of these speeches appeared to set the president up to do more than just defend his own record and define his opponent as extreme and out-of-touch. By taking the fight to Romney, it seemed, they made it possible for Obama himself to advance a more positive agenda. By looking backward, they made it possible for him to look ahead.
But the president’s actual speech did no such thing. The contrasts he drew with the Republicans were effective enough, but his positive agenda was mostly just a laundry list of easy targets — hiring more teachers, increasing natural gas production, modest short-term deficit reduction — rather than anything remotely transformative or new. By the time Obama was finished, Romney’s tissue-thin acceptance speech looked almost rigorous by comparison.
As the president promised, so is he likely to deliver. An Obama second term could feature some sort of early deal on taxes and spending, because the expiration of the Bush tax cuts will give him a temporarily strengthened hand to play. But a comprehensive, Simpson-Bowles-style deficit deal seems even less likely than before — let alone a deal on Medicare reform, where the two parties are now more polarized then ever. Likewise with liberal priorities like climate change legislation and immigration reform, which would require Democratic gains in Congress (and shifts in public opinion) that this campaign seems unlikely to produce.
As for the unemployed, maybe time and Ben Bernanke can help them, but there were no proposals of significance in the president’s speech for how to speed up short-term economic growth. Nothing new about housing, or the payroll tax, or regulatory reform, or monetary policy — nothing save an appeal for patience along what the president, in an almost Carteresque non-flourish, called the “harder” and “longer” road.
As The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein noted after the speech, a vote for the president’s meager agenda is effectively a vote for a kind of “return to normalcy” after the intense perturbations of the last four years. Clinton’s high-profile convention role was appropriate, in a sense, because in the best-case scenario an Obama second term would return us to the legislative landscape of the late 1990s — an era of small ball and incrementalism and modest forms of bipartisanship, in which politicians of both parties took credit for positive developments that they didn’t actually control.
But we are not in the late 1990s anymore. There is nothing remotely “normal” about the unemployment rate we’re enduring, or the long-term deficits we face, or the fact that the American birthrate has dropped below replacement level over the last five years. Or alternatively, if this is the new normal, then it’s a normalcy that both citizens and politicians should aspire to swiftly leave behind.
So far, Mitt Romney has conspicuously failed to persuade voters that his party, which helped lead us into this mess, has learned enough and changed enough to lead us out of it.
But whatever happens in November, the president’s own words have given us fair warning: We face a continuing crisis, and the liberalism of Barack Obama is no longer equal to the task.
Here’s a large plate of salted weasel dicks for you to nibble on until you present Rmoney’s and ZEGS’ ideas. I’m not holding my breath… Here’s MoDo:
How did the one formerly known as The One go for two?
In his renomination acceptance speech here on Thursday night, he told us that America’s problems were tougher to solve than he had originally thought.
And that’s why he has kindly agreed to give us more time.
Because, after all, it’s our fault.
“So you see, the election four years ago wasn’t about me,” President Obama explained. “It was about you. My fellow citizens, you were the change.”
We were the change!
We were the change? Us?
How on earth could we have let so much of what we fought for slip away? How did we allow Mitch McConnell, Karl Rove, the super PACs, the Tea Party, the lobbyists and the special interests take away our voice?
“Only you can make sure that doesn’t happen,” the president chastised us. “Only you have the power to move us forward.”
We’re so lame. We were naïve, brimming with confidence that we could slow the rise of the oceans, heal the planet, fix the cracks in the Capitol dome.
We never should have let the Congressional Democrats run wild with their stimulus spending on pork that didn’t even create the right kinds of jobs.
It also took us too long to realize what the party of know-nothings and no-everything was up to. We should never have walked into that blind budget alley with John Boehner. We should have realized, after the first of three phone calls went unreturned, that even with a few more merlots under his belt, the speaker wouldn’t have the guts to tell us he couldn’t get a grand bargain through his Tea Party House.
We should never have delegated health care to Max Baucus and let him waste time trying to cut a deal with Senate Republicans who had no intention of going along even with ideas — like the individual mandate — that they backed first.
We should have listened to Joe Biden instead of getting rolled by the generals on Afghanistan.
We’re older, wiser and grayer now.
It’s depressing to look back and remember what soaring hopes we had for ourselves only four years ago. Did we overdo it with the Greek columns? Sheesh, a million people showed up for our inauguration. Now we brag when we break 10,000.
What a drag to realize that Hillary was right: big rallies and pretty words don’t always get you where you want to go. Who knew that Eric Cantor wouldn’t instantly swoon at the sound of our voice or the sight of our smile?
Our forbearing leader didn’t pander to us with that standard breakup line: “It’s not you, it’s me.”
He gave it to us straight: It’s not me, it’s you.
If we get a second term, maybe Republicans will stop blocking, and blowing racial dog whistles. Maybe they’ll realize that they should deal with us, especially if they lose enough Latino voters to cost them not just the White House but Congressional seats.
As the president told us, “our destinies are bound together.” So we have to stop holding him back when he’s trying to go “Forward.”
We admit we like our solitude — maybe a little too much given our chosen profession. We could have opened up our weekend golf foursomes to a few pols — even women! — rather than just the usual junior aides.
And we could probably stomach giving lifts in the limo to some mayors and members of Congress, and actually pretend that we care about their advice — not to mention their votes.
Maybe we could drop the disdainful body language. For that matter, shouldn’t we put a little more effort into helping elect Democrats to Congress? Just because we only did a cameo in the Senate doesn’t mean some people there don’t think of it as a star turn.
Apparently, etiquette matters. We could send out a few thank-you notes to big donors and celebrities who give benefit concerts. Oddly, it turns out folks like to frame notes signed by the president and hang them on the wall.
Maybe we relied too much on Valerie Jarrett, a k a the Night Stalker and Keeper of the Essence. She says people should woo us. But could it be that we need to woo them as well?
How could we have let the storybook president lose his narrative?
How could we keep failing to explain what changes we have gotten through? Why is salesmanship so beneath us?
It’s ironic that Bill Clinton, who couldn’t pass his own health care bill, does a better job of selling ours. Even Obama said on Friday that we should make Bill a cabinet member — “the secretary of ’splainin’ stuff.”
We are grateful to the president for deigning to point out our flaws and giving us another chance.
“I’m the president,” he intoned.
But We, the People, must do the work.
The buck stops with us.
Go back to watching old movies, dear, or whatever it is that makes you happy, and stop being such a harpy. (And for what it’s worth, you’re responsible for that “The One” crap.) Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:
I just arrived in Shanghai, but I’m thinking about Estonia and wondering about something Presidents Clinton and Obama have been saying.
Wired magazine reported last week that public schools in Estonia are establishing a program for teaching first graders — and kids in all other grades — how to do computer programming. Wired said that the curriculum was created “because of the difficulty Estonian companies face in hiring programmers. Estonia has a burgeoning tech industry thanks in part to the success of Skype, which was developed in Estonia in 2003.”
The news from Estonia prompted The Guardian newspaper of London to publish an online poll asking its readers: “Children aged 7 to 16 are being given the opportunity to learn how to code in schools in Estonia, should U.K. school children be taught programming as part of their school day?” It’s fascinating to read about all this while visiting Shanghai, whose public school system in 2010 beat the rest of the world in math, science and reading in the global PISA exam of 15-year-olds. Will the Chinese respond by teaching programming to preschoolers?
All of this made me think Obama should stop using the phrase — first minted by Bill Clinton in 1992 — that if you just “work hard and play by the rules” you should expect that the American system will deliver you a decent life and a chance for your children to have a better one. That mantra really resonates with me and, I am sure, with many voters. There is just one problem: It’s out of date.
The truth is, if you want a decent job that will lead to a decent life today you have to work harder, regularly reinvent yourself, obtain at least some form of postsecondary education, make sure that you’re engaged in lifelong learning and play by the rules. That’s not a bumper sticker, but we terribly mislead people by saying otherwise.
Why? Because when Clinton first employed his phrase in 1992, the Internet was just emerging, virtually no one had e-mail and the cold war was just ending. In other words, we were still living in a closed system, a world of walls, which were just starting to come down. It was a world before Nafta and the full merger of globalization and the information technology revolution, a world in which unions and blue-collar manufacturing were still relatively strong, and where America could still write a lot of the rules that people played by.
That world is gone. It is now a more open system. Technology and globalization are wiping out lower-skilled jobs faster, while steadily raising the skill level required for new jobs. More than ever now, lifelong learning is the key to getting into, and staying in, the middle class.
There is a quote attributed to the futurist Alvin Toffler that captures this new reality: In the future “illiteracy will not be defined by those who cannot read and write, but by those who cannot learn and relearn.” Any form of standing still is deadly.
I covered the Republican convention, and I was impressed in watching my Times colleagues at how much their jobs have changed. Here’s what a reporter does in a typical day: report, file for the Web edition, file for The International Herald Tribune, tweet, update for the Web edition, report more, track other people’s tweets, do a Web-video spot and then write the story for the print paper. You want to be a Times reporter today? That’s your day. You have to work harder and smarter and develop new skills faster.
Van Ton-Quinlivan, the vice chancellor for work force and economic development at the California Community Colleges System, explained to me the four basic skill sets out there today. The first are people who are “ready now.” That’s people with exactly the right skills an employer is looking for at the right time. Employers will give the local labor market and schools the first chance at providing those people, but if they are not available they’ll go the “shortest distance to find them,” she said, and today that could be anywhere in the world. Companies who can’t find “ready now” will look for “ready soon,” people who, with limited training and on-the-job experience, can fit right in. If they can’t find those, some will hire “work ready.” These are people with two or four years of postsecondary education who can be trained, but companies have shrinking budgets for that now and want public schools to do it. Last are the growing legions of the “far from ready,” people who dropped out or have only a high school diploma. Their prospects for a decent job are small, even if they are ready to “work hard and play by the rules.”
Which is why if we ever get another stimulus it has to focus, in part, on getting more people more education. The unemployment rate today is 4.1 percent for people with four years of college, 6.6 percent for those with two years, 8.8 percent for high school graduates, and 12.0 percent for dropouts.
That’s why I prefer the new mantra floated by Clinton at the Democratic convention, (which Obama has tried to fund): “We have to prepare more Americans for the new jobs that are being created in a world fueled by new technology. That’s why investments in our people” — in more community colleges, Pell grants and vocational-training classes — “are more important than ever.”
Now here’s Mr. Kristof, who forgot more about farming than Mr. Cohen who castigated the term “organic” because he thought it was overused.
Food can be depressing. If it’s tasty, it’s carcinogenic. If it’s cheap, animals were tortured.
But this, miraculously, is a happy column about food! It’s about a farmer who names all his 230 milk cows, along with his 200 heifers and calves, and loves them like children.
Let me introduce Bob Bansen, a high school buddy of mine who is a third-generation dairyman raising Jersey cows on lovely green pastures here in Oregon beside the Yamhill River. Bob, 53, a lanky, self-deprecating man with an easy laugh, is an example of a farmer who has figured out how to make a good living running a farm that is efficient but also has soul.
As long as I’ve known him, Bob has had names for every one of his “girls,” as he calls his cows. Walk through the pasture with him, and he’ll introduce you to them.
“I spend every day with these girls,” Bob explained. “I know most of my cows both by the head and by the udder. You learn to recognize them from both directions.”
“This is Hosta,” he began, and then started pointing out the others nearby. “Jill. Sophia. This is Kimona. Edie would be the spotted one lying there. Pesto is the black one standing up. In front of her is Clare. Next to her is Pasta, who is Pesto’s daughter.”
I asked about Jill, and Bob rattled off her specs. She is now producing about eight gallons a day, with particularly high protein and butterfat content. Jill’s mother was Jolly, a favorite of Bob’s. When Jolly grew old and unproductive, he traded her to a small family farm in exchange for a ham so she could live out her retirement with dignity.
When I pushed for Bob’s secret to tell the cows apart, he explained: “They have family resemblances. They look like their mothers.”
Oh, that helps.
As a farmkid myself, growing up with Bob here in the rolling green hills of Yamhill, where the Willamette Valley meets the coastal range, I’ve been saddened to see American farms turn into food factories. Just this year, I’ve written about hens jammed in cages, with dead birds left to rot beside the survivors, and about industrial farms that try to gain a financial edge by pumping chickens full of arsenic, antibiotics, Tylenol and even Prozac.
Yet all is not lost. Family farms can still thrive, while caring for animals and producing safe and healthy food.
For Bob, a crucial step came when he switched to organic production eight years ago. A Stanford study has cast doubt on whether organic food is more nutritious, but it affirms that organic food does contain fewer pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Bob’s big worry in switching to organic production was whether cows would stay healthy without routine use of antibiotics because pharmaceutical salesmen were always pushing them as essential. Indeed, about 80 percent of antibiotics in the United States go to farm animals — leading to the risk of more antibiotic-resistant microbes, which already cause infections that kill some 100,000 Americans annually.
Bob nervously began to experiment by withholding antibiotics. To his astonishment, the cows didn’t get infections; on the contrary, their health improved. He realized that by inserting antibiotics, he may have been introducing pathogens into the udder. As long as cows are kept clean and are given pasture rather than cooped up in filthy barns, there’s no need to shower them with antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, he says.
Many cows in America now live out their lives in huge dairy barns, eating grain and hay and pumping out milk. But evidence is growing that cows don’t do well when locked up, so now many dairies are reverting to the traditional approach of sending cows out to pasture on grass.
“Pasture does wonders for cow health,” Bob said. “There’s so much evidence that they are much happier out there. You can extend their lives so much by keeping them off concrete, so the trend is going that way.”
Is it a soggy sentimentality for farmers to want their cows to be happy? Shouldn’t a businessman just worry about the bottom line?
Bob frowned. “For productivity, it’s important to have happy cows,” he said. “If a cow is at her maximum health and her maximum contentedness, she’s profitable. I don’t even really manage my farm so much from a fiscal standpoint as from a cow standpoint, because I know that, if I take care of those cows, the bottom line will take care of itself.”
This isn’t to say that Bob’s farm is a charity hostel. When cows age and their milk production drops, farmers slaughter them. Bob has always found that part of dairying tough, so, increasingly, he uses the older cows to suckle steers. That way the geriatric cows bring in revenue to cover their expenses and their day of reckoning can be postponed — indefinitely, in the case of his favorite cows.
I teased Bob about running a bovine retirement home, and he smiled unapologetically.
“I feel good about it,” he said simply. “They support me as much as I support them, so it’s easy to get attached to them. I want to work hard for them because they’ve taken good care of me.”
Like many farmers, Bob frets about regulations and reporting requirements, but he also sympathizes with recent animal rights laws meant to improve the treatment of livestock and poultry.
“You hate to have it go to legislation, but we need to protect the animals,” he said. “They’re living things, and you have to treat them right.”
Granted, such a humane attitude may be easier to apply to dairying than to poultry. It’s tough for cage-free poultry farms to compete economically with huge industrial operations that raise millions of birds jammed into cages, and healthy food that is good for humans and animals in some cases will cost more.
Moreover, we’re never going to revert to the kind of agriculture that existed a century ago. Bob’s 600 acres used to be farmed by five different families, and that consolidation won’t be undone. But neither is it inevitable that consolidation will continue indefinitely so that America’s farms end up as vast, industrial, soulless food factories.
I loved growing up on a sheep and cherry farm, even if that did mean getting up at 3 a.m. in the winter to check for newborn lambs, and I hope medium-size family farms remain a pillar of rural America. As Bob’s dairy shows, food need not come at the cost of animal or human health and welfare. We need not wince when we contemplate where our food comes from.
The next time you drink an Organic Valley glass of milk, it may have come from one of Bob’s cows. If so, you can bet it was a happy cow. And it has a name.
And last but not least here’s Mr. Bruni:
At their party’s ebullient convention last week, the Democratic politicians with an eye on the 2016 presidential contest were out in full force and almost in full stride, never mind that 2012 has yet to be settled.
Martin O’Malley, the Maryland governor, popped up here, there and everywhere. Mark Warner, the Virginia senator, was nearly as ubiquitous. And Joe Biden made the fiery most of a prime speaking slot just before President Obama’s.
But all of them knew that their efforts would probably be for naught and their aspirations in vain if a certain someone who was then half a world away decided to reach — again — for the White House. Like a poltergeist in a pantsuit, Hillary Clinton haunted Charlotte.
She was the grand phantom of the 2012 political conventions, but not the only one. Both the Republican gathering in Tampa and the Democratic conclave here were almost as fascinating for what and who were missing as for what and who were present: for the appearances that didn’t happen or that occurred only briefly or belatedly.
The Democrats lacked not only Hillary but also, in the beginning, God. To some party stalwarts that’s probably a statement of the utmost redundancy. Hillary is God, or at least a holy ghost.
Will she run in 2016? I can’t tell you how many times I heard that question and how largely it loomed in Charlotte. There’s a strong belief that she’s seriously considering one last bid, and a fervent wish that the Hillary saga not yet be over, because it’s as riveting as any in the last quarter-century of American politics.
The video that was shown just before Bill Clinton delivered his speech on Wednesday night reminded delegates and the rest of us of the Clintons’ epoch in the White House, years of serial scandals and provisional hairstyles. It reminded us, too, that for Hillary, a setback is merely a prelude to redemption, a warm-up for the last laugh. She’s the comeback kid.
From Hillarycare, Whitewater, Travelgate, Monica Lewinsky and the bruising presidential primaries in 2008, she rebounded to where she is today, a Democratic deity so revered that the 2016 nomination is presumed hers if she wants it. It’s seen almost as a matter of destiny, a piece of unfinished business. The party realized one kind of history with Obama’s election and would love to realize another with Hillary’s. It’s time for a woman. It’s long past time.
This particular woman’s absence from Charlotte wasn’t a clue to her intentions, a tea leaf to be read. Her day job, as secretary of state, had her in Asia. And a picture of her in East Timor, watching Bill’s speech, circulated quickly and spoke to why there’s such fascination with her these days. In the photograph she sat alone and at peace, attentive but not beholden to the human comet who took her on such a wild ride. She was now traveling through a separate cosmos, blazing an independent trail, lighting up the sky on her own.
Other absences were indeed freighted with tactical significance. They underscored how little it benefits some Democrats to go near a party platform with many planks to the left of the center, and they suggested how unpopular the party or the president is in certain states. Senator Jon Tester, fighting a tough re-election battle in Montana, skipped Charlotte. So did a remarkably long list of other Democrats in similarly fierce fights: Claire McCaskill, who stayed put in Missouri; Bob Kerrey, who didn’t leave Nebraska; Heidi Heitkamp, who campaigned in North Dakota; and Joe Donnelly, who did likewise in Indiana.
DEMOCRATS are on tenterhooks about the preservation of their Senate majority, which may help explain another convention phantom: gun control, the issue they feel they mustn’t touch. After a summer of bullets and despite a poignant appearance onstage by Gabby Giffords, Obama ignored it, other headliners avoided it and our Glock-toting country went about its merry and murderous way, with a shooting spree every few months and a failure of resolve to do anything about it.
Before Charlotte I was in Tampa, and there were a few moments between Paul Ryan’s and Mitt Romney’s speeches when I blinked. Hence I missed Scott Brown, the Republican senator from Massachusetts.
What an intriguing predicament he’s in. The only way he beats Elizabeth Warren, his Democratic rival, and wins re-election is to persuade his state’s voters that the “R” attached to his name is purely decorative, like the hood ornaments on a couple of old Cadillacs. So he stayed in Tampa about as long as the chardonnay in a Real Housewife’s glass lasts, and managed in his ultra-brief remarks to reporters to work in the words “moderate” and “pro-choice.” After he was spotted with Karl Rove, an aide made sure to characterize the meeting as accidental.
But the only way Brown converts a victory over Warren into, say, a run for national office — and I guarantee you, given his age (52) and his looks, that the thought has lodged deep in his mind — is a renunciation of that vaunted moderation. A renunciation of Massachusetts, really. You can see where I’m going with this. He’s Romney redux. Déjà Mitt.
Speaking of flashbacks and memories, one in particular was frowned on in Tampa. Delegates were dissuaded from déjà George.
I refer to the second President Bush, who appeared with his father in a video of just five minutes one night. That was it, and that said it all. Romney, Ryan and other Republicans are running as stewards of the country’s finances more trustworthy and less profligate than Obama, but Bush busted the budget and ran up the debt with his tax cuts, his expansion of entitlements, his wars. And Ryan abetted him every step of the way.
Is it any wonder that he wasn’t produced in the flesh and given free rhetorical rein, as Bill Clinton was? That his brother Jeb was welcomed onto the stage even as he came nowhere near it?
Republicans want you to look at the country’s woes and see only Obama. Democrats want to prevent that, and this election may hinge on what is and isn’t tugged out of the shadows. As surely as the specter of Hillary hovers over 2016, the apparition of the last president stalks 2012. And there’s no telling yet how these two great ghost stories end.
It’s interesting that yet again comments were closed on the columnists by 6 AM Sunday. Maybe because The Pasty Little Putz and MoDo were having their heads handed to them on plates?